I am from the Sweet, Sour, Salty, Bitter Body of Christ
I am from earliest memories of Latin Masses in Jamshedpur, India
not understanding a word, and then, English masses,
I did understand, but was bored by,
and Post-Vatican II vernacular masses,
in Konkani, Kannada, Marathi on our travels,
understanding nothing, but doing our Catholic duty,
and saving our souls from hell.
I am from the painting of the Sacred Heart in the living room,
who followed me with his wistful eyes wherever I hid,
and I somehow knew He liked me, was for me.
And I am from luminous statues of Our Lady,
and Catholicism worn on the body,
scapulars, and medals of the infant Jesus of Prague
and showy rosaries of silver and gold,
and the infinite boredom of the evening family rosary,
and my mother’s eyes growing soulful as she said the “Memorare:” “Never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection,
implored thy help, or sought thy intercession was left unaided,”
and me, thinking, “Wow, if that is true,
that is amazing, and there must be a God.”
I am from Bible stories from before I could read
Abraham with his knife to Isaac’s heart,
David and Goliath, Daniel in the lion’s den,
and from the stories of the saints, a second language too,
Francis of Assisi, the Little Flower, and Father Damien.
I am apparitions of the Virgin: at Lourdes,
and Fatima and Velankanni and Guadalupe;
and from the catechism, duly memorized and duly hated,
from imported Easter bonnets and Easter parasols,
and First Holy Communion with a white veil and white shoes,
and chasing George Kuriakose at communion prep.
singing “Georgie, Porgie, pudding and pie,
kissed the girls and made them cry,”
until, ironically, George cried.
I am from the One Holy Catholic Church,
which made my world more cosmopolitan,
with our Parish Priests, Spanish Fr. Calvo,
and Belgian Fr. Durt and American Fr. O’Leary.
And I am from St. Mary’s Convent, Nainital,
my boarding school in the Himalayas,
and being loved by beautiful Irish Sister Josephine,
a Protestant convert who adored Jesus and the Bible,
and was sceptical of all Catholic add-ons,
and taught me to be the same, in a Convent where
we walked to the nuns’ cemetery on All Saint’s Day
holding candles and praying both to and for the dead
in general confusion, and were sentimentally pious
about “Our Lady,” well, had a devotion to her.
And I am from Holy Weeks with the church
shrouded in purple for Maundy Thursday,
and late night prayer vigils because He had said
“Can you not stay awake one hour with me?”
and incense flung in the flames, and following
the Priest and the Paschal candle into the dark church
with our little candles (Careful, don’t burn your hair)
on Easter Saturday as the priest intoned, “Christ our light,”
“Thanks be to God,” we said
and we saved bits of palm as bookmarks
and nervously stuck out our tongue for the host,
sometimes withdrawing it too early,
and, “Oh, you dropped the body and blood of Christ!”
And I am from boarding-school Catholicism which made me cry with boredom, and which I recollect as torture—
Mass five days a week at 6.15 a.m.,
weekends devoured with Benediction, Adoration,
Stations of the Cross, Rosary, Blue Army and Choir practices.
And if any of us are still Catholics, well, that would be a miracle,
Wouldn’t it? And I am not.
And I stopped believing in God for a season,
Of course, I did.
But I am also from knowing the Bible, in and out,
fruit of all that enforced church time,
knowing hundreds of hymns by heart,
and Biblical wisdom surfacing from the depths of memory
when I least expect it.
I am from a religious conversion, straight out of school,
while reading Catherine Marshall’s Beyond Ourselves,
and The Cross and the Switchblade,
and straying into a charismatic meeting
and being baptized in the Holy Spirit
which I asked for, and receiving the gift of tongues
which I specifically asked not to receive.
and deciding that the best way to serve Jesus
was to work with the poor.
So I am from Mother Teresa,
entering her convent as an aspirant at 17,
where I enjoyed adoration and meditation,
and spiritual reading (an introvert’s spirituality,)
but struggled through lauds, none, vespers, compline,
vocal prayer, novenas for “a special intention,”
litanies and rosaries recited while you chopped vegetables.
Oh, the religious noise!
I am from Oxford, England,
revelling in English Literature in Somerville College,
listening to a lecture on how Christ
fit all the hero archetypes in Lord Raglan’s “The Hero,”
and deciding that he was a hero, not God,
and suddenly feeling all alone in the world.
But later, after earning a Masters’ in Creative Writing
in America, I realise that my life, without Christ’s help,
had been pedestrian, uninspired, and unsuccessful
and surely Jesus could have done a better job running it.
At a friend’s suggestion, I systematically try to do what Jesus says,
and faith returns, and how sweet it is.
I am from feeling my way into faith again
at a Pentecostal Holiness church in Williamsburg, Virginia,
where the baptiser insisted we destroy my Father’s copy
of the Bhagvad Gita, and Roy’s grandfather’s snake paperweight.
“Thou shalt have no other Gods before me,” he quotes,
And when he tried to baptise me, I was terrified
to have him push my head beneath water,
–loss of control and all that—
and he thought that the fear was of the devil
and halted the baptism for an exorcism!
And I am from two years in Minnesota,
faith still weak, trying out John Piper’s Bethlehem Baptist
which was too heavily theological:
“The pleasures of God are in bruising his son,”
and how does that get one through from Monday to Saturday
which should be one purpose of a sermon?
And then, back to Williamsburg: Grace Presbyterian Church,
and experiencing “Sonship,” brainchild of Jack Miller
and watching how theology made him come alive,
and made his eyes blaze as he talked about Wesley and Whitfield
my eyes filled with tears, for I realized I loved theology,
and there I was, a secular literary writer, and I had realized
that what I really wanted to do was play in the fields of the Lord.
And I committed to studying my Bible daily, and praying daily,
and I learn theology the best way,
from my own direct encounters with scripture,
not mediated through Calvin, Luther or Piper’s encounters.
And I am from being discipled over five years
by Paul Miller of SeeJesus and learning to ensure
that the rubber of faith hits the road of life.
And I am from St. Andrew’s, Oxford, my current church home,
Book of Common Prayer, liturgy, robed clergy, and Taize.
And I am also from the spiritual discipline of blogging,
asking, “What are you saying today, Lord?”
What is scripture saying?”
and writing it down.
And I am from the international body of Christ.
I learn soaking prayer from the Arnotts of the Toronto Blessing,
which has changed me more than anything else,
resting in the presence of God, receiving revelation,
for God speaks constantly, and is never silent,
and when we are still, we hear.
And I belong to the Wild Goose of the Holy Spirit,
whom I chase at Ffald-y-Brenin, at RiverCamp,
and at the Revival Alliance Conferences.
And I am, more recently, from the revival meetings at Cwmbran.
I am from the body of Christ,
tasted in three continents in all its wild richness,
all its flavours, sweet, sour, salty, bitter,
making me who I am—
a mere Christian.
I am from Christ.
I am in Christ,
a one-finger typist in the body of Christ,
part of it, as it is part of me.